Federal finance reform will help the children

Casey Family Programs President and CEO Dr. William C. Bell was one of five national experts testifying in Washington, D.C., on July 29, 2010, about the need for comprehensive reform of the country’s child welfare financing system to improve the lives of vulnerable children and strengthen at-risk families.

U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, who chairs the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, called for Thursday’s hearing after meeting with Casey Family Programs leaders. Bell’s testimony provided an overview of how Title IV-E funding waivers have demonstrated what is possible when state and county child welfare jurisdictions are given the flexibility to invest in key services that can keep more families safely together, and ensure that more children in foster care are able to join a safe, nurturing and permanent family as soon as possible.

Watch Bell’s testimony on YouTube

Transcript

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to share with you Casey Family Programs’ perspective on comprehensive child welfare finance reform for Title IV-E.

I am William C. Bell, president and CEO of Casey Family Programs, the nation’s largest operating foundation dedicated solely to serving the needs of children in foster care.

Casey Family Programs has been serving children in foster care for nearly 45 years, and we have come to believe that the goals of child welfare should be both to keep children safe and free from abuse or neglect, and to prevent the need for foster care in the first place by strengthening vulnerable families and their communities.

This morning, I’d like to talk to you about the steps that Congress can take to help the nation better achieve these goals:

  • Change the current federal funding policy to expand the allowable usage of Title IV-E funds by states.
  • Restore the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) capacity to grant Title IV-E waivers so that more states can participate in flexible funding demonstration waivers while collective agreement is being reached on the components of comprehensive federal finance reform.
  • Ensure that federal financing supports an effective array of preventive and family support services to reduce entries into foster care, shorten lengths of stay, and increase exits to a safe and permanent home.

During the past few years, as Casey Family Programs has worked with state, county, regional, and tribal child welfare jurisdictions across the country, we have seen significant progress. Progress evidenced by a rather impressive decline in the number of children in out-of-home care, while maintaining child safety.

There has been a 16 percent reduction in the nation’s foster care population – from just over 510,000 children in out-of-home care in October 2005 to just over 427,000 in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available. This is the lowest number of children in care since 1993.

When national data are examined, it is clear that the steady and consistent drop in the number of entries into foster care during the past few years accounts for much of the reduction we’re seeing. I believe that some of this good news is, in part, due to an increasing number of agencies working successfully with families upstream, identifying other safe alternatives for children besides foster care, and emphasizing prevention as an integral part of child welfare practice.

We believe that Congress has a critical role to play in the country’s ability to sustain the change we’ve seen and to make even more progress possible.

To continue this momentum and capitalize on progress already realized, we must change our policies around child welfare financing – finance reform that funds and institutionalizes the kinds of innovative practices that produce the positive results and outcomes we desire. Our policies must be consistent with and support our intent. Our financing policy must be aligned with our desire to keep children safe, our desire to prevent children from entering care and our desire to identify a safe, nurturing and permanent home as quickly as possible when children do have to go in to foster care.

The fact that Title IV-E funding cannot be used for prevention or post-reunification services has created a significant challenge to achieving better safety outcomes and finding permanent homes for children.

However, in jurisdictions like Florida, Los Angeles County (CA), and Alameda County (CA), many of these challenges have been mitigated because of the availability of Title IV-E flexible funding waivers.

Prior to the sunset of its authority to do so, HHS, approved flexible funding waivers for these jurisdictions that have allowed them to develop and expand a broad array of services, implement innovative strategies, and significantly reduce the number of children in their foster care systems.

These jurisdictions along with Ohio, Oregon, and Indiana, have had the flexibility to allocate Title IV-E funds for prevention, early intervention, and family support services to expedite permanency planning for children in their care.

These states and counties have been able to re-invest the savings accrued from reducing the use of foster care into building stronger community based service environments and increasing their ability to keep children safe.

We believe that through comprehensive federal finance reform this type of success could be made the rule rather than the exception. But until we reach that point, we believe that restoring HHS’ authority to expand the use of Title IV-E flexible funding waivers is a first step in the process.

Comprehensive federal finance reform simply means giving all jurisdictions the ability to invest existing federal funds in different ways to address the specific needs of the individual children and families they serve.

Federal funding should be available for a broader array of services that address not only out-of-home care, but services that also address the root causes of child abuse and neglect, services that strengthen families, and services that expedite the process of finding a safe permanent home for children who are in foster care.

These services should be available to a broader population of vulnerable families, including families whose children are at risk for child abuse or neglect or for foster care placement, or who were previously placed in foster care.

Having been in the child welfare profession as long as I have, I am fully aware that many of us struggle with questions such as:

  • How do we adequately meet the needs of individual children and families who live in very different communities?
  • How do we expand the service population and provide a wider service array without breaking the bank?
  • How do we know what works and what doesn’t work?
  • How can we ensure that states are prepared to use greater resources and/or flexibility to achieve better outcomes?
  • How do we hold jurisdictions accountable for the results that we want for our children?

These are all important questions that must be answered, but they should not prohibit us from taking some action now that moves us in the right direction. Children and families simply cannot wait until we have all the answers. At some point, we have to move forward with what we know and with what we have, while at the same time work to address current and any future challenges. We currently know enough to begin taking meaningful steps in the direction of financial reform.

Until comprehensive child welfare finance reform is developed and signed into law, Casey Family Programs supports the expanded use of waivers as an interim tool.

The reauthorization and expansion of Title IV-E waivers is a critical stepping stone on the path to comprehensive child welfare finance reform. A much improved balance among family support services, services to extended family caregivers and foster care services can be financed from Title IV-E dollars in states experiencing large declines in their foster care populations. Title IV-E waivers provide an opportunity to rigorously evaluate new reform strategies and approaches to comprehensive finance reform.

The potential of IV-E waivers to spur system reform has been demonstrated in a few strikingly successful examples. However, successful reform also depends on skilled and committed leadership; strong collaborations among child welfare agencies, courts and other community child-and family-serving agencies; strong public and political will, data driven accountability, and a persistent commitment over time.

Title IV-E waivers have played a key role in improving outcomes in Florida and California. These jurisdictions have developed innovative reform strategies in combination with strong visionary leadership, the use of child outcome data to guide sound decision making, and an emphasis on parental involvement and family connections. Title IV-E waivers have permitted these jurisdictions to fundamentally alter the character of their service delivery systems and build on reform efforts previously underway. Foster care remains an important part of these agencies’ service programs, but it is no longer considered to be the only solution or main service available to vulnerable children and families.

New waivers can and should be structured to evaluate new approaches to child welfare federal finance reform that retain the IV-E entitlement while permitting reinvestment of IV-E savings resulting from reductions in the state or county foster care population.

I was asked the question once, what does it take for states to be waiver ready?

  • States need committed, competent and visionary leadership.
  • They must build solid and meaningful partnerships – public and private partnerships and cross-systems partnerships; working collaboratively with the various other systems that interact with child welfare and with children and families, such as the schools, courts, law enforcement, mental health, employment, and community based-organizations.
  • They must have data-driven accountability. Child Welfare must measure and track the outcomes of the children in its care and then use that data to drive decision-making, strategies and action plans. Data also must be used to hold people accountable; not for punitive purposes, but to identify where change and improvement are needed and to ensure that these improvements occur.
  • There must be a continuous investment in the training and knowledge base of frontline supervisors and caseworkers, the backbone of the child welfare system.
  • And, finally, states need time. Change won’t happen overnight. We should be persistent, but we must also be patient.

These results that we see today have been building over the past five plus years, but they have been promising enough for us to know that we must keep moving forward.

Casey Family Programs is optimistic about what lies ahead for children and families in this country, especially those children in foster care. We are encouraged by your attention and support of this issue because it will take all of us doing our part in concert with one another to bring about the change we envision and know is necessary; the change vulnerable children and families so desperately need.

The groundwork and priorities have already been laid. In 1993, Congress passed the Family Preservation and Support Act. That bedrock legislation emphasizes permanent homes for children, support to families, prevention, and assisting families in crisis. We need to bring our funding policy into alignment with the ideals laid out in that Act.

Congress took an important step in that direction two years ago with the passage of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act. This landmark legislation created more opportunities for children to achieve permanency by opening Title IV-E to guardianship with relatives supporting kinship navigation programs, increasing incentives for adoption, improving outcomes for older youth, and increasing support for American Indians and Alaska native children. We must continue to push further to achieve full child welfare finance reform.

So much has been accomplished. Comprehensive finance reform will be the catalyst that pushes us to that next level of progress. You have a tremendous opportunity to greatly enhance the states’ ability to continue their amazing progress by partnering with them to invest in increased services and an expanded service population.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share these remarks with you, and, above all, thank you for your commitment to the well-being of America’s children and their families.

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